Cal State Northridge starts off season with milestones, beats Loyola Marymount for the first time in 14 years

LOS ANGELES – The Cal State Northridge Matadors used stifling defense to dominate and outlast the Loyola Marymount Lions Monday night in a convincing 79-62 win.

Senior center Jasmine Erving double-doubled for CSUN with 28 points and 14 rebounds, while teammate Violet Alama added 14. Alex Cowling led the way for LMU with 22 points, while Emily Ben-Jumbo put up 14.

The Matadors scored the first six points of the contest, but the Lions rallied and cut the lead to one at the 12:05 mark. It was a close battle that included several missed shots and layups on both sides, due to the defensive displays of each team – particularly CSUN, which boasts six players over six feet tall. The Matadors surged and pulled ahead by eight at 9:51, but the Lions again came back to close the gap, and it was 36-31 CSUN at the half.

Thanks to a 12-4 run to start the second period, CSUN was up 48-35 by the 15:30 mark, and they never looked back. LMU never got closer than eight points. They couldn’t get past the Matador defense to get to the rack, so they resorted to outside shots, which they couldn’t make. They were 18-64 (28.1 percent) on the night.

“Our defense is tremendously improved from last year,” said second-year CSUN head coach Jason Flowers. “We wanted to make sure Alex (Cowling) took a lot of shots, and we tried to limit the second-chance opportunities of the entire team.”

The win was not only a testament to the Matador’s height and defensive effort, but to their depth. Two other players were in double figures – Kaitlyn Petersen, a sophomore transfer from Gonzaga, and Janae Sharpe, a top-ranked freshman from Southern California’s Inland Empire. Both scored 11 points, and Sharpe also had five of the team’s 12 steals, and eight assists. Freshman Ashlee Guay, who started along with Erving, Alama, Petersen and Sharpe, contributed eight points, five assists and two steals.

The win marked the first time in 14 years that the Matadors have defeated the 0-2 Lions. CSUN is now 2-0 after beating the University of San Francisco Friday in their season opener – the first time they’ve won an opener in seven years. It was also Flowers’ first non-conference victory.

The growth of CSUN, which lived at the bottom of the Big West Conference for years, is showing. When Flowers took over the program last year, he inherited a paper-thin roster. Besides developing the players he had, Flowers and his staff recruited well; they have eight newcomers this season, including six true freshmen.

Flowers said Sharpe is unique in that she takes such pride in her defense, which is something that is not necessarily common in freshmen. Her aggressive play is also contagious to her teammates.

“She’s soft-spoken, but she brings a swagger to the group and to the court,” Flowers said.

Guay, he added, “makes him look like a genius” on the recruiting trail.

“We loved how hard she played and competed when we saw her, but she was even better than we thought when she arrived,” he said.

Flowers is perhaps most proud of Erving, who has not only improved her conditioning greatly and stepped up on the court, she has become a team leader.

“It’s amazing to see the physical change in her, and she organized all the team summer workouts,” Flowers said.

The Matadors showcased exceptional unity during the game against the Lions, anticipating where each other was on the court and positioning themselves to help out. Flowers gives credit for that to Erving and the team’s other senior, Bridgette Conejo.

“The challenge when we came in was to take the old team and the new team and make them one,” Flowers said. “Jasmine did that, and Bridgett helped. Our seniors get all the credit for our team chemistry.”

LMU hits the road next to take on UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Fullerton. CSUN will also travel, facing Oregon State and Washington this week.

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Cal State Northridge 79, Loyola Marymount University 62